Split between China, India and Pakistan, and claimed in full by both India and Pakistan, the region has become an issue so sensitive that the Security Council steered clear of formally talking about it for nearly half a century. (Though it has been discussed under less official circumstances.)
That changed this month, after India announced it would strip autonomy from the state of Jammu and Kashmir — its part of the Himalayan region. The move provoked a fierce reaction from Pakistan, as well as demonstrations in support of Kashmir around the world.
For weeks after New Delhi’s announcement, Pakistan has called for a Security Council meeting. It finally got it on Friday, thanks to the support of China, a permanent member on the powerful council.
A 90-minute private debate among Security Council members on Kashmir is notable. Asked whether the Council had left the Kashmir issue alone for too long, Russia’s deputy UN Ambassador Dmitry Polyanskiy, told CNN, “Well I was born in 1971.”
“Sometimes it’s best to not touch on every issue,” he added.
Pakistan’s Foreign Minister, Shah Mehmood Qureshi, told reporters in Islamabad ahead of the Security Council session that Prime Minister Imran Khan had a phone call today with US President Donald Trump.
Khan presented his point of view to President Trump as the two leaders discussed Kashmir and Afghanistan, he said.
Later, a White House spokesman said Trump conveyed the “importance of India and Pakistan reducing tensions through bilateral dialogue regarding the situation in Jammu and Kashmir.”
Inaction at the highest level of international diplomacy
So what was the outcome of the closed door huddle at the United Nations headquarters in New York?
Not much. According to a UN diplomat, council members failed to even come up with a statement to the press — the lowest level of Council action.
UN diplomats said countries disagreed on wording of a statement, with some fearing any comment would escalate tensions or would show bias towards Pakistan by simply holding the meeting.
France, Germany and the United States objected to language that might have broadened the issue beyond the possibility of future bilateral talks between India and Pakistan, said the diplomat.
“The priority must go to bilateral dialogue,” another UN diplomat said.
Neither India nor Pakistan could not attend under Council procedures.
This result is completely in line with Security Council inaction on a host of global hotspots in recent years, due to divisions among the the big powers that sit on it. Still, just dusting off the diplomatic cobwebs was by international standards a big deal.
After the meeting
Council members generally feel India and Pakistan should both stop from any unilateral action over Kashmir, China’s Ambassador Jun Zhang told reporters after the session.
The session was also followed by a rare verbal shootout between the Indian and Pakistani Ambassadors in front of UN reporters.
“The voice of the Kahmiri people, the voice of people of occupied Kashmir has been heard today in the highest diplomatic forum of the world,” Pakistani Ambassador Maleeha Lodhi said.
She said that the fact that the meeting took place at all meant that the standoff was an internationally recognized dispute, and that her country stood ready for a peaceful settlement of the Kashmir dispute.
After a break, India’s UN Ambassador Syed Akbaruddin spoke. “It’s entirely an internal matter for India,” he said, adding: “We don’t need international busybodies.”
Akbaruddin also promised an eventual easing of restrictions in the Indian-controlled part of Kashmir, where civilians have been under security lockdown and a communications blackout.
He also went over to a railing in front of a UN television camera to several Pakistani reporters and shook their hands after some tough questioning.
Will 50 more years pass before the Council takes up again the hot topic of Kashmir? As the diplomatic arm that’s supposed to protect international peace and security, the Security Council should move quickly to get between the two nuclear-armed opponents if there is a significant flare up.
But for now, it’s only agreed to talk, rather than act.